Why this charity ball was different

SM exec and Francophile Steven Tan brought it beyond glamour—into a most urgent cause

Cirquera de Cameleon troupe performs for guests.

Acclaimed French actress Emmanuelle Beart (standing, fifth from left) with SM Supermalls president Steven Tan (second from left), and from his left, French ambassador to the Philippines Marie Fontanel, Cameleon Association founder Laurence Ligier, and SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation president and chairman Elizabeth Sy with the members of the Cirquera de Cameleon troupe

It’s not easy to let go of one’s Sunday evening for a charity ball, yet many did last December 3, dressed down and comfortably, to give recognition and honor to four Filipinos who studied in France, to raise awareness about the insidious crime against women and children, and to muster support for an NGO’s resolute drive to save their lives.

The charity ball was mounted by the Embassy of France, which, since last year, has been spearheading the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Philippine-French diplomatic relations, by SM Supermalls, and by the Cameleon Association, a French NGO which has been valiantly working in Iloilo among women and child victims of domestic violence, incest, and other crimes. The December 3 weekend marked the observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children.

“We thought that it wouldn’t be enough to just have a ball. There had to be meaning and sense of social purpose to it,” SM Supermalls president Steven Tan told that Sunday evening after many of the guests had left. Tan himself was among the four Filipino recipients of the French Alumni Awards given by the Embassy of France. Tan pursued his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris, and lived in France for two years—the stage of his life that brought an incalculable learning experience and indelible life memories.

“And that was when we came upon the stories involving women and children in the French NGO Cameleon,” continued Tan, referring to SM Malls’ collaboration with the French embassy. “How this French woman, Laurence Ligier, founded Cameleon 26 years ago. She was a visitor here and decided to stay on, leaving behind a comfortable life in Paris, because she couldn’t turn her back on women and children who had been silent victims of sexual violence, such as incest, most of it in the domestic setting—suffering in a culture of silence.”

Laurence Ligier, French founder and director of Cameleon Association, came to the Philippines more than 30 years ago and decided to stay to help victims of child abuse by founding the NGO. (Photo by

Laurence Ligier (second from right) with, from left, Zonta official Rita Dy, editor Thelma Sioson, and video team head Luis Carlo San Juan

Tan’s contribution to the corporate world, apart from his academic credentials and work experience, has always been his ability to think out of the box. For this collaboration with the French Embassy, SM Supermalls wanted to tap its network not only to bring attention to the plight of this disadvantaged sector of society, but also to muster financial support for it, so that assistance is sustained not only by the good Samaritans in France, but also by Filipinos who will not turn their back on the downtrodden in their society.

“This ball is a very good moment to train the spotlight on it,” Tan added, “our chance to pitch in and do our part as Filipinos.”

The dinner, held at the new Lanson Place, Mall of Asia, had its stirring moments when the children and young women from Cameleon came onstage. One of them told her harrowing story in the hands of a stepfather, as the other young girls did a slow, dramatic dance onstage. Then the rest of the Cameleon cast, aptly called Cirquera de Cameleon, performed heart-stopping acrobatics learned from some staff of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, and drama and dance movement—all the while showing a glimmer of hope on their faces as they executed those moves.

This collaboration with SM Supermalls was in line with Make It Iconic, the global slogan of France to celebrate the daring French spirit made concrete in tourism, gastronomy, culture, education, science, the economy, and infrastructure through innovation and strategic partnerships.

In his remarks at dinner, Tan stressed how women comprise the main work force at SM group of companies and how the group continues to pursue the empowerment of women, stressing that it should go beyond the celebration of Women’s Month in March.

The weekend charity ball happened on the second day of the 26th French Film Festival at SM Cinema of Mall of Asia and Megamall. French Ambassador Marie Fontanel said in her remarks how one of the films being screened during the festival, the documentary Un Silence Si Bruyant (A Resounding Silence), tackles this very subject of incest in the context of contemporary French society. It was directed by French actress Emmanuelle Béart and Anastasia Mikova. Béart, who flew in from Paris that weekend to grace the screening of her film at SM Cinema, was also the special guest at the ball, and delivered heartfelt remarks.

In the latter part of the program, Laurence Ligier, the founder of Cameleon, gave the disturbing statistics that one in five children below 18 years old has been a victim of sexual violence during their upbringing, and that this alarming data applies to France, as it does here in the Philippines.

At the French Film Festival, from left,  Embassy of France cultural attaché Martin Macalintal, French Ambassador  Marie Fontanel,  French actress Emmanuelle Béart, SM Supermalls president Steven Tan, and Embassy of France cultural counsellor Marc Piton

At French Film Festival,  French Ambassador Marie Fontanel, actor Cesar Montano, Emmanuelle Beart, Film Development Council of the Philippines chairperson Tirso Cruz III, and SM Supermalls president Steven Tan

French Ambassadoe Marie Fontanel gives her welcome remarks.

The dinner gave recognition to Filipinos who had spent years in French education and had subsequently excelled in their fields. Aside from Tan, they were filmmaker and film historian Nick Deocampo of the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute, internationally recognized Balai Palma chef Aaron Isip, and Design Center of the Philippines executive director Rhea Matute.

Nick Deocampo of the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute, Balai Palma chef Aaron Isip, Design Center of the Philippines executive director Rhea Matute, French actress Emmanuelle Béart, SM Supermalls president Steven Tan, French Ambassador Marie Fontanel, Makati mayor Abigail Binay, and Embassy of France cultural counsellor Marc Piton

SM Supermalls president Steven Tan talks on women empowerment.

French Alumni Awardee and Design Center of the Philippines executive director Rhea Matute (left) and Angel Guerrero, editor of adobomagazine

Isip is an alumnus of the renowned Le Cordon Bleu. Deocampo obtained a certificate of film from the Atelier du Formation Au Cinema Documentaire, and Matute obtained a master’s degree in International Brand Luxury Management at École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) in Paris.

Among the guests of the charity ball dinner were Makati City Mayor Abigail Binay and SM Hotels and Conventions president Elizabeth Sy. The program’s emcee was Anne Gauthier, a French Filipina.

But the evening, no doubt, belonged to the wards of Cameleon and the French woman Lawrence Ligier, who braved adversaries big and small—she suffered even physical attack in the course of her advocacy work, which she survived, owing to her taekwondo skills—just to continue saving the lives of the abused, and in an effort to make a difference.

She shared a few words with

Emmanuelle Béart hugs the members of the Cameleon troupe, celebrating their resilience and courage.

Cameleon Association Inc. can be followed on social media and they welcome donations. Cameleon is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a non-stock, non-profit, and is accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It has Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PNCC) accreditation.

French Ambassador Marie Fontanel and consul Fortune Ledesma

PAL president Stanley Ng and SM vice president Grace Fornier Magno

Seated, from left, David Guerrero, founder and creative chair of BBDO Guerrero; Angel Guerrero, Bulletin Lifestyle editor Arnel Patawaran; standing, from left, SM vice president Grace Fornier Magno, Bulletin president Emil Yap, Star columnist Pepper Teehankee

From left, Estée Lauder’s Sharyn Wong, editor Thelma Sioson, Trimark Group’s Obee Ham, SM Malls’ Mitch So, Star’s Pepper Teehankee

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